No Reservations

It’s July. In California. It’s probably a good idea to make reservations. But that’s just a level of commitment I’m not ready for. I stopped in San Luis Obispo for a work meeting and then headed down the coast towards Los Angeles. But where to stay the night?

Here’s what you end up with when you don’t plan ahead.

Lake Camping


I drove up the mountain road towards the lake and pulled up to the entrance. The guy in the booth said I should just drive around and pick a spot I liked then drive back and tell them the number. I asked what he recommended that would be pretty and relaxing. He got out a map and studied it. And then he got a red pen and circled the spaces he liked. “Don’t get this one. It has problems.”

Map in hand, I drove around. And ended up here.

Lake Camping

The only problem with parking on a cliff is that no matter how many times you check the emergency brake, you’re pretty sure you’re about to roll right off into the water. (I did not roll off the cliff into the water.)

I had heard (er, read on the internet) that Carpinteria Beach had great RV camping, so the next day on a whim, I drove on over. I had also heard that the reservation window opens six months in advance, and all the spots are snapped up within ten minutes.

I drove up to the window. “Today is your lucky day!” said the woman at the booth. “We just had a cancellation not more than 5 minutes ago!” The way it works (other than driving up at 2pm right when someone cancels) is that at 9am, you put your name into a lottery. They process the cancellations and then call out names. I guess I should have played the real lottery because I stayed three nights (I didn’t try my luck for a fourth).

Carpenteria Beach

In the morning, I looked out my window to these guys:

Carpenteria Seals

The second and third nights, I had spots without hookups, so I was really roughing it. I had to have dinner here:


Can you imagine?

I found this little coffee shop downtown and camped out there for a while to work.

Coffee and wifi

Totally coincidentally, some friends of mine were in Carpinteria on vacation so we met up for brunch. In case you all thought I was becoming a recluse and shunning people and forgetting how to use speech and stuff.


You Wish You Were At An RV Park Right Now

Remember when you were 18 and you were an adult and you knew everything and all those old people (30 year olds) knew nothing? Like their minds had atrophied and they couldn’t even remember what the world was like?

Then one day, you were 40. And you thought, wow. I was really dumb when I was 18.

That’s how you feel the first time you drive into an RV park. An RV park. Sounds sort of terrible, right? But no. It turns out that as you get older, you start to hone in on what’s really important. Like peace and quiet and views of the river, and massage therapists and dog walkers.

I was a little nervous. This was going to be my first attempt at hooking up all of the various things that need to be hooked up. And there would be people around. Experienced RV people. Who you just know would be peeking out from their 5,000 square foot class As as they typed their mocking commentary in the RV chat rooms. And uploaded photos of me unable to figure out how to plug in an electrical outlet.

Would I even find the right space to pull into? Could I back in without smashing into the RV next to me? WHY IS EVERYONE STARTING AT ME?!

I pulled into the RV park just south of Redding, CA around sunset. Two older ladies were in the office. First, the questions: did I have a dog? I must have looked confused because they quickly explained that they were just asking so they could give me dog biscuits.

One of the women motioned to the other one. “She’ll show you to your space.” I must have looked even more confused. “Valet service!” she said.

She walked out and jumped into a golf cart. “Follow me!”

I followed her past the pool and the hot tubs and the gym and the lounge chairs next to the fire pits and the spa and the media room.

fire pits

She pulled up next to my space at the edge of the river and then helped me back in like she was guiding in a plane.

RV Park

She showed me where to plug in my electrical cord and connect my water hose and screw in my cable connection and, well, connect the sewer system.

Could she tell this was my first time? Are they always this helpful?

But now, the moment of truth.

I drug my electrical cord to the utility box. And I plugged it in. I flipped the breaker on. I went back to the RV. And my power worked! I successfully plugged in a cord! I was very proud as you might imagine.

Water next. The way the water works is similar to how you would connect a regular garden hose to an outdoor faucet. Similar in that it’s exactly the same.

The technician who had done the walkthrough of the RV dealership had made a big deal about this little black lever at the water connection. You see, OFF is when it’s vertical. If you want water to flow into your RV, you have to turn the lever ON. And you do that by flipping it horizontal. He said I could remember this because the pipe is also horizontal. If I want water to flow through the pipe, the switch has to point in the same direction as the pipe. SUPER EASY!

I connected the hose. I turned on the water outside. I flipped the little black level horizontal. I went inside and turned on the sink. Water! Success! You can imagine how proud I was now. I have won RV hookups!

Only then I went outside again. And noticed water gushing out of my drive side door. Which didn’t seem quite correct. I had created a waterfall from my RV that cascaded all the way down to the river. And California is in a drought. Surely the water police would come surround me any minute. Not to mention all those RVers taking pictures of me with their cell phones and uploading them to those RV chat rooms.

I rushed to turn off the water. Then I slowly opened the driver side door. You see, you fill up the water tank much in the same way you’d fill up your gas tank. And the fill up spot is at the drive side door. The cap to the water tank had been blown off (fortunately, it was still there) and water was pouring out. Huh.

The internet, fortunately, knows everything. That black lever? It is supposed to be vertical if you want “city water” (as the RV folks call it) connected to your RV. You move it horizontal when you want to fill up your water tank.

And so began the many moments in which I learned that nearly every bit of the very little I had learned at the dealership was utterly wrong. Opposite even. Every journey begins with a single step. And my first step was a cascade of water.

I got the water situation worked out and then I ran my air conditioner for the first time. Which, I have to admit, was pretty awesome.

And then I sat outside and did some email. (Yep, RV parks have free wifi too.)

RV internet


And Then I Started Driving

Eugene OR

I slept in a mall parking lot last night. Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right. I parked my van by the river and … Right, I guess that sounds even worse.

I spent my first night on the road in the best boondocking parking lot in America.

I sort of sound like I’m some kind of RV hipster, with secret knowledge of hidden places and insider slang, right? But actually, I didn’t even know what boondocking (aka free camping, almost certainly involving “dry camping”, aka at a site with no hookups) was a few weeks ago.

But when I read that someone called this their “fave urban dry camping site” and someone else said it  was “one of the nicest “freebie” overnight parking spots we’ve ever encountered” and I saw I’d be driving right by it, I figured I’d better check it out.

I know. It seems a little sketchy. Or maybe dangerous. I’m a single woman alone in a van in the middle of the night. By the woods. And a pond that, while small, is surely large enough to sink a body in.

Also I’d never spent the night in the RV before. Maybe it would be scary and loud and confusing and snakes would eat me. Or maybe bears would get in. And eat me.

I realized I hadn’t really thought this whole RV thing through. One day, I just had this epiphany that I should buy an RV and drive around. And so I bought one. And now I’m driving around.

The Drive From the Dealership

I had the same thought a few days ago as I drove the RV home from the dealership. I have a Roadtrek 170 Popular. Which is regular van length (18′ 9″), but a little taller (8′ 9″). It’s also a lot heavier. I guess carrying a whole house with a water tank and granite countertops and a generator and the kitchen sink (literally) can add a little weight to a vehicle.

As I pulled out of the dealership and onto the road, I wondered if perhaps I should have researched this whole RV idea a little more.

From the moment I had this idea, I thought it would be awesome. Like seriously and totally awesome. But I also wondered if maybe I was wrong. That I’d get out on the road and immediately realize I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake.

I made my friend Michelle do a test run with me after I’d loaded up all my stuff. I picked her because she didn’t think this whole RV thing made me a crazy person. Which is a plus when you need a companion for the test of a crazy thing you’ve decided to do.

We drove down the freeway for a few miles and didn’t die so we called it good.

The Drive From Seattle

Michelle was moving to Portland the next day, so we packed up some of her things in my aisle and caravanned down. I made her watch to see if I stayed in my lane or if I somehow gave it away that I was a novice RVer that everyone driving down the road would laugh at.

After a couple of hours, driving the Roadtrek seemed almost like normal driving. Sure, I couldn’t drive into parking garages and I was astounded at the little cars that would cut me off and then brake as though I wasn’t driving an entire house behind them. Also, I wasn’t super fond of random wind gusts. But otherwise, I felt pretty confident. I COULD BE A TRUCK DRIVER NOW IF I NEED A NEW CAREER!

I slept on Michelle’s couch for a couple of nights and I even had my own pillows and blankets that I bring with me everywhere now. (Driving around with your entire house does take some mental adjustment. I’ll be in a coffee shop and get a little chilly and think, did I bring a sweater with me? Oh right. I brought all my sweaters with me.)

And then I was off to the best parking lot in America.

The Best Parking Lot in America

I drove towards the far right corner of the lot where I saw another RV parked. In less than a minute, two security guards had driven over. Did my vehicle have a bed? A bathroom? “This isn’t a Wal-Mart parking lot! We have standards. Haha!” I passed the quiz so they gave me a little registration to fill out and got my cell phone number. They told me that they patrolled the parking lot every 15 minutes and they dimmed the lights at night to help everyone sleep.

They said I might want to check out the “hippie” festival across the bridge.

This might be my favorite overnight spot. I know it’s my first spot. But it might be hard to top this.

I parked in the corner so I had the river on one side and a meadow on the other.

Parking Lot

I strolled down the jogging trail, across the bridge towards the hippie festival. They weren’t kidding. Oregon hemp fest. A hip hop band was on stage rapping “we smoke to hemp hop”. Seriously, I am 99% sure that was the lyric. Would I have ever known such a thing existed had I not set out for places uncharted? OK, probably yes since I live in Seattle.

I walked down to the lake and watched the ducks and then over to a marshy part of the river with herons and cranes and as it turns out, beavers. I watched one just knock a duck right off a log.

An extremely cute guy without a shirt on came jogging by (it was about 500 degrees outside). He stopped to watch the beaver and chat a bit. Best parking lot in America.

I couldn’t really go hang out in the RV. Since it was 500 degrees outside, it was maybe a million or so inside the RV. (I don’t have a way to measure the temperature, so I’m just estimating.) I do have an air conditioner but since I was running on battery, I’d need to fire up the generator. It was my first day out so I wasn’t really ready for that level of expertise. I wasn’t sure if running a loud generator was cool in parking lots or if I’d make everyone mad and get ostracized by the RV community and then I’d never get invited to RV prom.

So I wandered into the mall. Being a mall, half the stores had closed down and those now empty areas had been turned into lounge spots with tables and comfy chairs. Also, the mall had free internet. And great air conditioning. So I got a little work done while I sipped on my iced latte in the cool air. That’s how we rough it in RV life.

Turns out that my first night in the RV I did not get eaten by a bear. Or snakes. The evening cooled down. It was quiet and peaceful. In the morning, I heated some water on the stove, made coffee with Starbucks Via, and sat outside and watched the water.

Parking Lot

And then I said goodbye to the best parking lot in America and drove south.